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Archive for the month “October, 2013”

Calcium Light and the Siege of Charleston

The calcium light that Company E, 102nd NY Volunteer (a.k.a VanBuren Light) Infantry was trained to employ at the Second Battle of Charleston in September 1863 proved to be decisive.

The Calcium light had become famous on Broadway as “limelight”.  The light was created by compressed hydrogen and oxygen that fed a flame directed at a “calcium oxide” lime stick. When heated to a point just before melting (4,662 °F), the lime glowed brightly. Before the Civil War, Robert Grant, of New York City, promoted the use of these calcium lights to illuminate streets and other outdoor areas. Using a parabolic mirror, he demonstrated the ability to signal ships over ten miles out to sea.  At Charleston, two calcium lights were used to illuminate Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg on Morris Island from a distance of about 800yards and 1800yards respectively.  The illumination prohibited the southerners from repairing damage and re-supplying the garrisons at night, not to mention strengthening the positions, which led to the eventual abandonment of the positions on the night of 6-7 September. Col. Lawrence M. Keith, commander 20th South Carolina Infantry in Battery Gregg, reported “throughout the night, the enemy light threw its bright silvery rays upon our front”, no doubt seriously complicating his life!  Major Edward Manigault attempted to extinguish the lights with cannon fire from Battery Haskell on James Island but there is no record of his achieving any success.  The lights allowed accurate Union artillery fire around the clock as well as protection for the Monitors off shore from torpedo craft.  The lights were first used on 3 September and on 6 September the forts were abandoned.    


Cal Sweeney, Stuarts Troubador

Sampson “Sam” Sweeney was the younger brother of Joe “Joel” Walker Sweeney, who was a famous minstrel entertainer, and reputedly the first white man to perform with the banjo, an instrument that prior had only been played by enslaved Africans.  The banjo is a five string instrument with a unique sound that it is said to be the only musical instrument developed in the United States.  Sam Sweeney, a member of H Company, 2d Virginia Cavalry, became JEB Stuart’s personal musician.  Sam died 13 January 1864 of smallpox.  Sweeney was part of Stuart’s musical group including Mulatto Bob on the bones and a couple of fiddlers. One of the high spots was JEB’s favorite tune Jine the cavalry, which Stuart may have written himself.  Stuart’s musicians rode with him and provided countless hour of entertainment for the general and his cavalry.

Brigadier General John Brooks Henderson and the 13th Amendment

John Brooks Henderson, of Louisiana, Pike County, Missouri was a US Senator from  Missouri and contributed to the emancipation of African slaves in what way?

He co-authored and co-sponsored the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution on 11 January 1864 along with Congressmen James Mitchell Ashley (Republican, Ohio), James Falconer Wilson, (Republican, Iowa), and Charles Sumner (Republican, Massachusetts).   Henderson was appointed to the U.S. Senate as a Unionist in January 1862 to fill the vacancy caused by the expulsion of Trusten Polk. Polk was expelled from the U.S. Senate January 10, 1862, for his support of the South in the Civil War and was appointed as a colonel in the Confederate States Army, and later served as a judge in the military courts of the Department of Mississippi in 1864 and 1865. In 1862 Brigadier General Henderson signed a peace treaty with Colonel Jefferson Jones of the short-lived Kingdom of Callaway, Missouri lending that breakaway state legitimacy before federal troops invaded and ended its existence.  Jefferson Jones formed his army in October 1861 and had 600 armed with shotguns and squirrel rifles and several “quaker” guns which intimidated Henderson and his Union Army force into the embarrassing treaty.  

He served in the US Senate from January 17, 1862, to March 3, 1869 when he was not a candidate for reelection.  During his term of office he served as chairman, Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expense
(Thirty-ninth Congress) and on the Committee on Indian Affairs (Thirty-ninth and Fortieth Congresses).  He was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor and Senator.  He was appointed a Special United States attorney for prosecution of the Whiskey Ring at St. Louis in 1875; appointed a commissioner to treat with hostile tribes of Indians in 1877.  He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1888 and became a  writer residing in the capital until his death on 
April 12, 1913.  He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y.



Abner Doubleday and Baseball

Last night we watched the St. Louis Cardinals decisively defeat the Dodgers for the National League title and tonight we saw the Boston Red Sox defeat the Tigers.  Great sport!! Then I began to think about our national pastime during the Civil War.

Captain Abner Doubleday was in command of the Union artillery that fired the first defensive shots at Ft Sumter.  He was second in command to Major Robert Anderson.  He later served at 2ndManassas, SouthMountain, and at Antietam he was wounded by an artillery blast.  He led the second division of the I Corps to relieve Buford’s cavalry at Gettysburg.  In five hours of fighting his 9600 med were assaulted by 16,000 in Ewell’s Corps.  He was wounded in the neck on the second day.  He left the service as a Major General. 

After the war he moved to San Francisco where he took out a patent on a cable car system which is still in use today.  He had a full military career and a successful civilian life.

But he is mostly known for inventing the game of baseball in Elihu Phinney’s cow pasture in Cooperstown, New   York.  The baseball diamond at West Point is named after him, Doubleday Field, and I have had the pleasure of seeing the New York Yankees and Giants play the Cadets each spring while I was a cadet.

Did he invent baseball.  Well the answer is yes and no.  There were several parents to our popular game.  The consensus of opinion is that Doubleday deserves at least as much credit as the others.

Baseball became very popular during the Civil War because the soldiers had lots of time when they were not in combat or on the march.  So teams and leagues flourished and the sport gained a nationwide acceptance so that after the war the momentum grew into the national phenomenon.


Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis October Quiz

St. Louis Civil War Roundtable

October 2013

(All these questions relate to my list of the most significant dates of the War)

1.  South Carolina, the first state to secede passed the secession ordnance on what date?

2.  When were the first shots fired in Charleston, SC?

3.  When was Ft.Sumter surrendered?

4.  When was Maryland secured for the Union and by whom?

5.  When was CampJackson captured securing St. Louis, Missouri for the Union?

6.  After the debacle at First Manassas the Union looked for a counterbalancing victory.  What was the first major victory of the United States in the Civil War?

7.  What event violated Kentucky neutrality and when did it occur?

8.  On what day was the  USS St. Louis launched?

9.  When was the Battle of Port Royal Sound and what was its significance?

10. Where and on what date did naval warfare see an irrevocable change in technology?

11. On what date did the Union win the victory that secured Missouri for the Union?

12. What Union victory effectively completed the Union blockade and when did it happen?

13. What was the signal Union success that opened the Mississippi River from St. Louis to the Gulf?

14. What Union victory had the largest political ramifications of the War and on what date?

15.  What Union victory helped secure Lincoln’ 1864 re-election?

16. What date sealed the fate of the Confederacy?

17. What event sealed the fate of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and on what date?

18.  Jefferson Davis was captured on what date?

19. What date was the official end of the Civil War?

 Copyright© 2013 John A. Nischwitz


There are other dates that have significance to the war.  What dates do you think supersede these in importance?


City Point, Virginia-Supply Base Par Excellance

Once Grant moved his army across the James River 15-17 June 1864 he needed a headquarters and logistic base west of the James to supply it.  City Point, now Hopewell, proved to be a near perfect location.  A rail line linked City Point with the Union line around Petersburg eight miles distant.  This railroad was laid without a prepared roadbed.  Ties were laid directly on the ground.  The little railroad was so effective that when Lincoln came to visit he was given a ride on the line and asked gingerly “If this railroad had a lawyer?”, reflecting on his days in Illinois.  This was the first military railroad in history of war.

City Point had a commodious anchorage that handled the seemingly endless procession of ships, barges, transports, sailing vessels, and tugs loaded with every conceivable type of supply.  On one day over 225 vessels were anchored at the wharf or in the roadstead.  The network of levies and jetties linked closely with the railroad moved material very efficiently.  Grant, relying on his supply officer background, demanded meticulous accounting for everything.

A network of five hospitals, occupying over 200 acres, could treat over 10,000 Union casualties.  Munitions, foodstuffs, and supplies were so plentiful that Quartemaster General Montgomery C. Meigs felt that the base could feed and supply over half a million fighting men if necessary.  Commissary General of Subsistance responsible for feeding the army was Michael R. Morgan.  He was the officer Grant turned to to find rations to feed Lee’s army at the Appomattox surrender.  Grant also had a herd of 5000 long horn steers for fresh meat.  This herd was the objective of Hampton’s Beefsteak Raid.

In one artillery park eight hundred cannon and limbers were aligned waiting for assignment to replace combat losses.

Barracks were constructed for soldiers and civilian contractors.  A blacksmith shop that could shoe fifty horses at a time was constantly busy with dray and cavalry mounts.  And a prison yard, called the Bull Pen, housed deserters and other malefactors complete with a gallows and palisade where spies were shot after a brief trial.  The yard provided uncovered area with no shelter for the prisoners.

There was a hotel run by a notorious Philadelphia tavern keeper, numerous suttler stores, caterers markets and even a couple saloons.  Bakeries turned out thousands of fresh loaves of bread to be shipped daily to the front line.

General Grant used the plantation house, Appomattox Manor, of the Eppes family as the headquarters office of his logistician Quartermaster General Rufus Ingalls.  Ingalls had been Grant’s roommate at West Point. 

Telegraph communications connected CGAUS with all the armies in the field. 

Most of this information is from Edward Boyken’s 1960 book entitled BeefSteak Raid.  Please read and enjoy this fine and entertaining book! 

Stuart’s Scouts a.k.a. The Iron Scouts

I have had a book on my shelf since the early sixties.  I remember reading some of it but I never really appreciated the treasure trove of special historical material it included.  The title is Beefsteak Raid by Edward Boykin published in 1960.  As a side light it sold for the massive amount of $4.95. 

For some reason I decided to pull it down and see what’s what.  Boy!!! was I pleasantly surprised.  I’ll share some with you.  The ultimate subject was the great Confederate russle of some 2500 cattle inGra nt’s herd of longhorns he brought to City Point to feed the Army of the Potomac.  He wanted fresh meat. He hated the desicated (sometimes called desecrated) canned beef as much as his men.  He acted to fix the problem.  I like that about Sam Grant.   One of the subjects covered as a backdrop to the theft was a very complete discription of the dimension and makeup of the City Point logistical base.  Another was the process, planning, and effort involved in the the pontoon bridge that carried Grant’s army across the James River and Lee’s complete surprise at the fait accompli.    General Grant’s 101 pontoon bridge crossed the tidal James River 80-feet deep with 7 mpg current and half a mile across.  The decking was 13-ft wide and required a 200 foot causeway approach.  No other temporary bridge of it’s dimension has ever been attempted-ever!

The herd of beef that crossed was about 5000 head that brought up the rear of the Union column.  It was the objective of one of the most brazen raids of the Civil War and was a godsend to Lee’s starving troops. 

But what of the Iron Scouts?  They were a picked group of volunteers who roamed behind Union lines wearing blue uniforms and provided JEB Stuart the intelligence he needed to plan and execute the reconnaisance missions assigned by Lee.  Sergeant  George Shadburne, from Texas,  was the leader of the scouts.  Some of the members were Jack Shoolbred, Hugh Scott, Billy Mikler, Dan Tanner, “Snake” Harris, Dick Hogan and Jim Niblett.  This crew  won Stuart’s admiration for their boldness and flair and they never came home empty handed.  After Stuart’s death at Yellow Tavern, they reported to Wade Hampton who organized the Beefsteak Raid.  All these men were very familiar with Headquarters General Order No. 6 from 1861 which prescribed hanging for rebels caught in blue uniforms. The fine line between spy, scout or guerilla was determined at the end of the rope.   These men and others perpetrated the great beef theft which occurred 14-17 September 1864.   

The First Confederate Prisoners Taken By the Union

I started the day just browsing the internet looking for information on the beef industry and its relationship to the Civil War.  Well one thing led to another and the story of Col. William H. Emory and Black Beaver miraculously appeared.  I thought you might enjoy!  Isn’t Wikipedia great? 

In May 1861, Colonel William H. Emory, stationed at Fort Arbuckle, learned that 6,000 Confederate troops were advancing toward him from Texas and Arkansas. He gathered the Union soldiers from forts Washita, Cobb and Arbuckle near Minco, but to escape to Kansas across the open prairie he needed a guide.

Many Indian guides turned him down for fear of reprisal by the Confederates. Emory guaranteed Black Beaver, of the Lenape Tribe, that the government would reimburse him for any losses, so he agreed to help. He scouted the approaching Confederate troops and provided information for Emory to capture their advance guard, who became the first prisoners captured during the Civil War. Black Beaver guided over 800 Union soldiers, their prisoners, and 200 teamsters managing 80 wagons and 600 horses and mules in a mile-long train across 500 miles of open prairie to safety at Fort Leavenworth in eastern Kansas without the loss of a single man, horse or wagon.  This was the first use of what would later become the Chisolm Trail.

Emory served with distinction throughout the war, achieving Corps Command, until he was retired with the rank of Brigadier General by General Sheridan in 1876 as Commander of The Department of the Gulf during Reconstruction.

Emory, an 1831 graduate of West Point, became a historic explorer and map maker prior to the war.  He married Benjamin Franklin’s great grandaughter.  Read his story and be impressed.  A side note on Black Beaver, born in Belleville, Il,  He also is worth the trip through Wikipedia.  By 1860 Black Beaver was the wealthiest and most well-known Lenape in America. He had settled in present-day Caddo County, Oklahoma and lived at Anadarko, where the Lenape had been removed.  A historic trapper and guide he led an incredible life.

Enjoy as I did.

Constantin Blandowski-A Civil War Hero and the Camp Jackson Affair

Count Blandowski. born in Prussian controlled Selesia, became a soldier-of-fortune and remained very busy from 1846-1855, parricipating in the French Foreign Legion actions in Algeria in 1846.  He then joined the revolt in Hungary and Poland in 1848. He had been with the Polish Legion with Garibaldi in Italy in 1848.  He was a company commander in Sigel’s 3rd Division at Camp Jackson where he was fatally wounded on 10 May 1861 and succumbed on May 25, making him the first Union officer to die of wounds in the Civil War. he had been wounded in the left leg near the knee and after an amputation he died of gangrene.

Blandowski had been a fencing and dancin instructor for the German Turnverein in St. Louis.  Now that deserves some clarification. He actually taught the manuel of the bayonet which he learned in Algiers.  The evolutions of the bayonet and the related foot movements have been misrepresented as dancing and fencing.  Now he did teach these subjects in New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and eventually St Louis.  His instruction served the German regiments well and they employed his training at Ft. Donelson, Island Number 10, Camp jackson and in all the actions they were in throughout the war.

Blandowski helped stiffen the backbone of these units as the Patriot units at Morristown and Valley  Forge were trained by von Steuban.

Here is a little side light to the Camp Jackson Affair was that after the Missouri Volunteer Militia had surrendered and were being taken to the St. Louis Arsenal for parole.  As the prisoners were being marched out of the Camp Jackson area, Captain Nathanial Lyon was kicked by his horse which delayed the movement.  During the delay the crowd that had gathered as the Union troops approached the camp, got restless and began trowing rocks and dirt, a few shots were fired by pistol carrying citizens and Blandowski was hit.  The Union units fired above and into the crowd and 28 civilians were killed and many were wounded.  Had the delay not occurred the affair might have been a bloodless victory.  The first significant victory of the Union in the Civil War.

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